My name is Daźay Burnett. I am a 17-year-old senior at Beacon High School. On December 3, 2014, I was arrested, along with about 50 others, for peacefully protesting the Eric Garner decision.
I was in my after-school poetry club when my friend Senegal announced to the group that the jury had chosen not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Eric Garner.
After hearing the news, I went to my choir rehearsal to try to take my mind off of everything. I learned about the Rockefeller Center protest through Facebook, and I told my friend Brian that I'd go to my school's basketball game for a little bit if he agreed to attend the protest with me. I left choir rehearsal a hour early, went to the game for about ten minutes, then started walking towards Times Square where we eventually met up with the protest group.
We snaked around through the streets, trying to find a way into the Christmas tree lighting, but the police had everything blocked off and kept telling us if we walked north there would be a way in. They basically kept us walking around the perimeter of Rockefeller Center, and when we asked if we could go to the lighting we were denied entry. The police were letting people in who they assumed owned property near Rockefeller Center, or who looked like tourists. But if you looked like you were even remotely involved in the protest, they were not letting you in.
After taking a full loop around Rockefeller Center, people were agitated. We kept getting denied access to the ceremony, and they kept trying to make us walk in circles. After a while, Brian had to go home, which left me alone, and I got separated from the protest group I was with.
I eventually found a big group of people chanting in the middle of the street, and the police were talking on bullhorns saying there would be arrests because we were blocking oncoming traffic. People started to retreat, which was pretty wack because I thought that the whole point of a protest was to go against what was being asked. I also believed the whole massive-arrests threat was a bluff. I didn't think the NYPD would arrest hundreds of people for blocking a street.
Regardless, people started making moves, but I noticed the riot police for some reason making their way to the sidewalk and shoving people who were already doing what was asked. I crossed the street to record the interaction on my iPod Touch.
I was simply recording what was going on, along with the 10 or 15 other journalists who were videotaping and taking pictures. One of the cops in riot gear saw I was recording. He took my hand and said, "Let's go, you gotta keep it moving."
We were directly behind the people getting pushed down the sidewalk block, so we physically could not walk faster. A black cop tried to warn me of what lay ahead if I stayed.
To be honest, I felt a sense of security momentarily. I followed a direct order from a police officer to follow him, and we were in constant motion and not blocking the street. That sense of security dramatically disappeared when one of the higher-up officers saw I was recording. He pointed at me directly out of the crowd, and started shouting "GRAB HIM! HE'S THE ONE, GET HIM!"
The cops falsely accused me of resisting arrest. They also made the false claim that I was involved in a group that had assaulted an officer by throwing water on him. I did not have any real time to resist arrest. Before I could even drop my book bag and find a clear route to make my escape, I felt hands grab me from behind.
My right arm was twisted into a chicken wing.
I was never told I was being placed under arrest. I repeat: I. Was. Never. Told. I. Was. Being. Arrested. I still had my book bag on, and when I turned to see who was twisting my arm, I saw three or four cops. They all yelled the same thing at the same time.
At that moment, I was more confused than anything. I've seen people actually resist being arrested before. They run, push away, kick, punch, whatever. I didn't do any of that.
The cops apparently felt that I was a hazard and had to be cuffed immediately. They took my iPod, dragged me to a mini patrol car, pushed me down on the back hood, and zip-tied me. It took about five cops, who were all significantly bigger than me, to arrest me, because the cops kept trying to get my hands behind my back but I still had my large book bag on. I guess they took this as another form of resisting, because they cuffed me and let the heavy book bag hang from my tightly zip-tied wrist. The pain was excruciating.
The cops then gave me over to a man who I'll call "Officer L" for the rest of the story. Officer L was my arresting officer. The weird thing is that this man was literally nowhere near me when I was grabbed. He did not even see the arrest or what really happened, which he even later admitted.
The other officers handed me over to him, and he walked me to the middle of the street where there was a line of people who were also being arrested. I kept hearing the term "five bodies" said over and over. It seemed like all the arresting officers were focused on achieving a body count of five, which would explain the random arrests. They were filling quotas.
As I was on line, I kept pleading with Officer L to do something about the cuffs because I was in pain. My book bag had various schoolbooks inside, and the weight of it kept pulling down on my wrist and the cuffs were already extremely tight to begin with. When I told him this, Officer L responded, "They're not supposed to be comfortable."
Disgusted by his lack of regard for my safety, I sat down in the middle of the street to stop the pressure on my wrist. At this moment, a lady yelled to me from the other side of the barriers and asked if I was being hurt. I responded, "Yes!"
The lady then began to yell at Officer L to stop hurting me. After a while, Officer L pulled me up off the ground, and another cop came to my side and asked what the problem was, and I told him that they cuffed me to my book bag and that it was hurting me.
"What do you want me to do about that?" he said. "Cut your bag off?"
After going back and forth and pleading, they finally took me inside the van to cut the zip tie so I could take my bag off. After I did that, Officer L brought me back outside to take pictures with me. He held me by my right arm and posed to show that he was my "arresting officer," I assume. It felt very similar to how a hunter poses with the game he just shot, or how a fisherman poses with his fresh catch.
In the police van, I was with five other people. Three were journalists, and the other two were bystanders who were grabbed randomly. There was only one other black guy. While waiting to be transferred to 1 Police Plaza, I found out that I still had my phone in my jacket pocket. I proceeded to take a video in the car, and I posted it to Facebook. I did this because as soon as I unlocked my screen, Facebook was the first app that came up, and I knew that if I posted a video letting people know that I was in trouble someone might alert my mom.
My hands were behind my back, so I did not have time to send a text to my mom and I didn't want the cops to see that I was on my phone so I had to be quick. I took the video, posted it, turned the phone off, and hid it.
When we arrived at 1 Police Plaza, the cops lined us up and went over what we were arrested for. I wasn't surprised that they said I was resisting arrest, since they had been yelling about resisting when they grabbed me. But it was surprising that they pinned resisting arrest on the other black guy who got arrested.
He had been very calm on the arrest line, cracking jokes with the officers, and he'd even said he understood that the cops were told to arrest people and that they had a job to do. So when they accused him of resisting arrest we were both in shock together. But now that I look back at it, we were all randomly selected to be arrested, but only the two black guys in the group were pinned with extra charges such as resisting, and the assault charge.
Waiting in the holding cell to be searched, I knew they would find my phone so I texted my mom. "Stop playing," she immediately responded. "It's getting late. Bring your ass home."
I hadn't told my mom I was going to the protest because I didn't think I'd be there long, and I didn't expect to be arrested. I always thought if I were ever arrested, it would be because the security team at the Magic Johnson theatre caught me sneaking into a movie and called the cops.
The time spent in the holding cell was long and intense. I kept waiting for them to tell me my mom was here to pick me up. I asked to call, but they never let me. At 1 Police Plaza, the cops seemed very happy. It almost felt like an annual Christmas party. Cops were laughing, updating their Facebooks and Instagram accounts instead of doing our paperwork, and I realized that the reason why they were so happy was because we were their overtime.
I overheard cops bragging about arresting people, and some were even thanking us for helping them buy their families Christmas presents. To be honest, after a couple of hours I wasn't even fazed about being arrested. It was the arrogance and total disregard for what we were fighting for that really infuriated me. Regardless of what people may think about protestors, we were all grieving, not just for the life of Eric Garner, but all the black lives that had been stolen. It felt like so many of our people died in vain because police were never punished for their actions.
It wasn't until early Thursday morning that they started to let people out of the cell to go home. They started calling people one by one to exit, but the people who weren't allowed to go home—either because of an unpaid ticket or warrant, or in my case, resisting arrest—stayed in the holding cell and waited to be transferred to central booking (a.k.a. The Tombs).
When they called my name. I stood up and walked to the back room so they could get my fingerprints and take more mug shots. I asked my arresting officer, "If you're supposed to be my arresting officer, and claim that I resisted arrest and such, why weren't you there when I actually got grabbed by the cops and arrested? Did you even see me resist arrest?"
Officer L admitted that he was not physically present during my arrest, and didn't see me resist, but since they told him I resisted he had to follow orders. Later on in the night he explained that during a protest, if a higher-up tells him to grab you, even if you're not doing anything at all, he has to make an arrest or he's liable to get in trouble.
At around 6 a.m., I was transferred to Central and processed through the correctional facility. I wasn't really scared when I initially got arrested, because I was held with people who were all arrested the same way. We were fighting for the same thing.
This was different.
I had never been to the Tombs before. I was preparing myself for the worst, and I was trying to bottle up the hatred I had for my arresting officer.
The police there took my pictures again, did a retina scan on my eyes, took me through the medical checkpoint, and finally put us in a cell across from another man who was also held with us at 1 Police Plaza.
After hours of pondering why this was happening to me, I realized the police wanted to scare me into not protesting ever again. They saw that I didn't have an arrest record, and felt that this would be a good way to scare me straight. After realizing this, I knew that I couldn't let them break my spirit and see that I was in pain. I waited and waited, then called my mom through the operator phone, which charged a ridiculous $13 a minute. I let my mom know that I was physically OK, and when they finally called my name I tried my best to get up and walk with a sense of pride and dignity.
They took me upstairs with a group of three other older Hispanic men, and told us to wait in this smaller cell while the lawyer came to speak with us. My lawyer called me to the screen separating the cell and said that since it was my first arrest and that I didn't have any priors, I could take an ACD (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal). This meant that if I stayed out of jail for six months all the charges would be dropped.
Initially, this sounded appealing, but then I thought about it and realized that because I didn't actually do anything, I should take it to trial and beat the case. My lawyer said she'd represent me, but warned me if I were found guilty I would face a year in jail and it would go on my record. This didn't bother me because I truly had done nothing wrong. Then I realized that this was the same justice system that had let Daniel Pantaleo get away with murder.
Assuming the system wouldn't necessarily take my side regardless of the facts, I went with the ACD. I'm now regretting it, because even if I get arrested for anything as simple as not having I.D. on me during a stop, my ACD is thrown out and I have to go to trial.
When I finally got to see a judge, she read me the charges and gave me the ACD, and I was finally released to my mom and sister, who were waiting for me inside the courthouse. I was also relieved to see my history teacher there.
I was glad to finally be released, but then I found out some interesting news. My sister informed me that my Facebook had been deactivated overnight. I still do not know how. My mom didn't do it. My sister didn't do it. I couldn't have done it because I had no access to my electronics. What I do know is as soon as I was released, my account mysteriously reactivated. Facebook even sent me an email stating that they believe my account was hacked, and I was forced to change my name and password. I guess someone wasn't very happy about the video I posted.
It was a very rough night/day, but it was a lot harder on my mom, who was sent on a wild goose chase throughout the city looking for me.
Although it felt like a never-ending nightmare, I learned a lot about myself and how much pressure I can withstand. There was a time when I felt like we were all alone in this battle and that no one really heard us, but seeing all the races and ages of people who got arrested just proved to me how tired people are of the bullshit. People are finally making a concerted effort to change, but we all need to take part in it, no matter what age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. The future depends on it. I'm only 17 but I refuse to bring my children into a society that considers them a threat, or views their lives as less valuable than the next person's simply because their skin is tinted. For the rest of my life, I will do everything in my power to resist that.
Daźay Burnett is a 17-year-old Harlem native. A senior at Beacon High School in Manhattan, he is actively involved in performing arts, songwriting, and youth activism groups (New York Youth for Justice). He plans to attend college in the fall of 2015, with Theater Arts as his intended major.
[Image via Getty]